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Mixed economic signals from Finnish firms; many still face recruitment problems

Many companies say they still have trouble hiring enough qualified employees.

Työntekijöitä venttiilitehtaalla.
Hiring is expected to continue in all branches except heavy industry. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

Mixed economic signals emerge from the latest survey from Finland’s main business lobby. Expectations took a dip at the start of the new year, according to a poll released by the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) on Wednesday.

Companies across the board see softening demand. They still expect slight improvements in profitability, though, except in the building trade, where profits are expected to edge downward.

For its quarterly Business Tendency Survey, the lobby asked members for their views on business conditions in late 2018 and early 2019. Respondents represented some 1,200 firms with a total workforce of nearly a quarter million.

Though their outlook has dimmed somewhat, most companies said they still see current economic conditions as stronger than average.

More hiring ahead – except in heavy industry

All primary sectors reported labour force growth, with payrolls expected to keep growing in all branches except manufacturing. On Wednesday, one of Finland's biggest industrial employers, Wärtsilä, announced it is shedding jobs.

Companies in most sectors still report significant problems in recruiting qualified staff, though the situation is somewhat better from their standpoint than in October.

Twenty-seven percent of firms said that their growth is being held back by labour shortages – with the construction sector reporting the biggest problems in recruitment.

The latter part of last year brought growth to the building trade, which had been lagging behind, bringing it back to the level of other main sectors. The construction business outlook indicator rose from -33 in the previous poll from October to a still-modest -19 (zero is the normal level, and the "outlook balance indicator" worsens as negative figures increase).

In manufacturing, though, the business outlook indicator slipped to -10 in the January survey, compared to -4 last autumn. Expectations also declined slightly in the service sectors.

All business branches look forward to moderate growth in sales and production over the next few months. However factories said they are now only using 86 percent of their capacity, slipping from 88 percent last fall.

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